Four-Time Olympic Champion Kitajima To Front Tokyo Team In ISL: Toronto Also Joins 10-Team League

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H.Bick

Four-time Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima is the latest swimming luminary to endorse the International Swimming League with the news that he will front a Tokyo team in next season’s competition.

Tokyo and Toronto, Canada, were unveiled as the two new franchises who have yet to be named that will compete in the ISL in the 2020-2021 season at a media conference following the inaugural grand finale won by Energy Standard at the Mandalay Bay Event Center in Las Vegas.

Tokyo will take their place alongside the European teams of Energy Standard, London Roar, Team Iron and Aqua Centurions.

Toronto – who will be led by Global Swim Series founder Robert Kent – will join the US-based quartet of Cali Condors, LA Current, DC Trident and NY Breakers.

The season will comprise 27 matches – regular season, play-offs and final – taking place between September and April with windows for the World Short-Course Championships in Abu Dhabi in December 2020 and trials season in March 2021 ahead of the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.

Kitajima, of Japan, is the only man to have won the Olympic breaststroke double-double, claiming back-to-back 100m and 200m titles at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 and retired with seven medals across four Games.

Kitajima said:

“I am delighted and truly excited to be part of elevating the value of the sport of swimming in a global context. The opportunity for swimmers to succeed in the professional arena is something that most of us have only dreamed about.

“The ISL will make it possible for swimmers and their coaches to highlight their talent throughout the year in a global arena and inspire children to pursue the sport.’’

In the picture: Adam Peaty GBR, 003659

Adam Peaty – Photo Courtesy: Arena

Kitajima is no stranger to being a source of inspiration himself with both Olympic 100m champion Adam Peaty and world 200m gold medallist Anton Chupkov citing the ‘Frog King’ as one they have always looked up to, both men competing in the ISL for London Roar and Energy Standard respectively.

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Anton Chupkov – Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Chupkov set a new world record en-route to his second successive world title over 200m breaststroke at the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, in July.

The Russian was animated when speaking of Kitajima at the World Military Games in Wuhan, China, in October.

He told Swimming World:

“We took a photo together in Gwangju and he congratulated me. He is a living legend of breaststroke and probably the coolest swimmer, definitely the coolest breaststroke swimmer, in history because he won everything – 100 and 200 – he won everything. It was very cool to see him and get to talk to him in person, and it was nice that he congratulated me.”

Chupkov’s participation at Tokyo 2020 in Kitajima’s hometown is in question given WADA’s recent four-year ban on Russia from global sport following the manipulation of data.

As things stand individual athletes may be able to compete if they can prove they are not implicated and are therefore innocent and able to compete under a neutral flag with 9 December the date of WADA’s Executive Committee meeting which will decide their fate.

The first day of the grand finale witnessed a thundering 400IM world record of 3mins 54.81secs by Japanese swimmer Daiya Seto who was making his ISL debut for Energy Standard.

Eyes will be on the 25-year-old in the run-up to Tokyo where he will be looking to add to his bronze from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

ISL founder Konstantin Grigorishin said: “The International Swimming League must be a truly global one but our development needs to be sustainable, so we are delighted that we are able to announce that one of our two new clubs for next season will be in Tokyo – the global capital of sport in 2020.

“Japan is one of the world’s leading swimming nations with a large fanbase so we expect to see a very competitive team be developed there and many fans excited to learn of our plans.’’

Thirteen Canadian swimmers have competed in the ISL this season, among them Penny Oleksiak who won four medals at Rio 2016, including joint gold with Simone Manuel in the 100m freestyle,  and Kylie Masse, the world 100m backstroke champion.

Kent said: “I’m exceptionally excited about the opportunity to join the ISL. I think everyone can appreciate how new and exciting and revolutionary the ISL is and to be a part of this in the second year is a total thrill for me personally.

“I think we are at the cusp of something – not only for the league – but I think swimming in general and partially because of the league, there is no reason we couldn’t see a real explosion in swimming and bringing the professional format to a bigger and wider audience – especially after what we saw in Las Vegas.

“That was about as much fun as you could stand and there is no reason we couldn’t do the same in Toronto. We have a large group of great Canadian swimmers that I am hoping to recruit and we also have a large group of up-and-coming swimmers that we want to develop and the ISL, looking at our market in Canada, will only serve to do that so much better.”

Grigorishin added: “Our vision is for the International Swimming League to be a truly global one so it is fantastic we are able to bring our league to new audiences in Canada for next season.

“This is only part of our development strategy, though, as we also see our responsibilities and opportunities in the areas of sustainability, inclusion, integration and the green environment by working together with our new franchises, including in Toronto, in the area of mass participation.’’